When journalists use the Missouri Sunshine Law, a Freedom of Information Act request, or any other government transparency measure, that should be celebrated as cornerstone of American society.
The Missouri Sunshine Law is one of the greatest tools for a journalist in holding government accountable to the people. It’s also one of the most underutilized tools by the public in general.
American society was built on the tenets of truth and openness by its government. The ability for the public to act as a check and balance to the government is a prized part of democracy. The Missouri Sunshine Law supports those ideals in the Show-Me State.
The law sets the standards for governmental bodies in Missouri — everything from boards of trustees in the tiniest of towns all the way up to the governor’s office and for any board or groups that uses public money, including police departments and library boards.
Among those standards are when, where and how to conduct meetings available to the public, as well as providing details for what takes place during those meetings. The Sunshine Law details how public bodies responds to requests for information and what information can be requested. For example, did you know that you can request a statement of a department-issued credit card? In a different position, I did, and found out that a sheriff’s deputy and his family erroneously used a department credit card to buy furniture.
That’s how an open government works — it must be responsible to the money and the people’s money.
That’s also how democracy is preserved, by allowing the public to become active participants in watchdog duties of the government, along with a robust press. The Missouri Sunshine can be used by anyone, at any time, for any reason.
I’m dismayed when members of the public think the press shouldn’t take advantage of the Missouri Sunshine Law. Two summers ago, the Courier-Post executed a Sunshine Law request to find out that the Department of Natural Resources cited the city of Hannibal for improper procedures at a project on D’Ville Place. The procedures had an enormous impact on residents in that area of America’s Hometown.
By using the law to uncover wrongdoing — intentional or not — we were called the “Courier-Pest.” by some.
Even if the results are inconvenient or challenging, these types of open information laws are vital to not only the work jounralists, but society as a whole.
Sadly, many people don’t know about or understand open records laws. They apply to everyone.
We encourage everyone to educate themselves about the basics of the Missouri Sunshine Law. A study last year showed many government bodies do not understand the law fully, demonstrating poor compliance. So far, the Courier-Post has had little trouble with Sunshine Law compliance. In fact, the city of Hannibal — whose custodian of records is the city clerk — has been outstanding with any request we’ve had.
That’s how it should work.
And when journalists use the Missouri Sunshine Law, a Freedom of Information Act request, or any other government transparency measure, that should be celebrated as cornerstone of American society.